When George III came to the throne, he and the Earl of Bute had a plan, and part of it involve installing the new King’s favoured people in the Office of Works, reflecting his (and Bute’s) interest in architecture. The first appointment was that of Thomas Worsley to Surveyor General. Although the official appointment was on 15 December 1760, it was obviously known to the participants earlier; Henry Finch, the previous incumbent, stopped attending Board meetings three weeks before, and, on 5 December 1760, Horace Walpole wrote to his friend Henry Mann that Worsley “is made Master of the Board of Works; he was this King’s equerry, and passes for having a taste for architecture, of which I told you the King was fond” (Correspondence, 26, 460).
Thomas Worsley (1710—1778) was passionately fond of art, architecture, and horses. The eldest son of Thomas Worsley of Hovingham in Yorkshire, he went to Eton and followed up with a Grand Tour of several years’ duration in the 1730s. He had known Lord Bute since at least the late 1730s and been an equerry to the King since 1743. As soon as he succeeded his father in 1750, he began rebuilding Hovingham Hall.
One novel feature of this house is that the entrance from the road is through the riding school or stables.
By 1760, then, Worsley was well-known at court, had a friendship with Bute stretching back over two decades, had considerable architectural background, and was a great horseman. Once appointed Surveyor General, he performed his duties with care and diligence, despite being an MP for Orford and Callington from 1761 to 1774, and increasing ill health, especially from 1774.
Around 1745 or 1746, Thomas Worsley fell in love with the beautiful orphan Elizabeth Lister, whom his mother had taken in as maid to his youngest sister. She got pregnant and, despite the urging of his family, he stayed with her. They ran off together in 1748. Although presumably returned after his father’s death. He eventually married her in 1757, and together they had eleven children. Tragedy struck in 1769 in the form of scarlet fever. Worsley wrote to Bute, “I am got hither and find three of them dead, my eldest daughter 12 years old, & two most amiable boys dead in the house” (Worsley, 293). Another son, aged eight, died in 1770 and then in 1774, the eldest son, twenty-six years old, just returned from his Grand Tour, and full of promise also died. Worsley, consumed by grief, and in continual pain from a kidney ailment, lived on for four more years.
For related posts, see the Office of Works and Kew category.
Lewis, W.S. (1937—1983). The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Worsley, G. (2004). The seduction of Elizabeth Lister and its implications for the Worsley family. Women’s History Review
13 (2), 289—302.